Personalities | Ike Turner | The Rhythm King | Guitar Heroes

Rock’n’roll pioneer Ike Turner was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi in November 1931. He displayed an early interest in music while working for a local radio station. He was taught to play boogie-woogie piano by one of his idols, blues musician Pinetop Perkins.

Inspired by other bluesmen like Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Muddy Waters and Elmore James, he took up the guitar. Turner formed The Rhythm Kings in the late 1940s, and in 1951, they made what many consider to be the first rock’n’roll record, ‘Rocket 88’, credited on the label to Jackie Brenston (the band’s singer) & His Delta Cats. Produced by Sam Phillips at Sun Studios, the single contained the first recorded example of distorted guitar, caused by Ike’s faulty amp.

The Rhythm Kings relocated to St Louis, where Turner acted as an A&R man for local independent record companies and played guitar with many of his blues heroes. It was here that Turner established a reputation as a hard-hitting guitarist who used the whammy bar of his Fender Stratocaster to good effect. In 1957, during a Kings of Rhythm ‘open mic’ spot, a teenage girl, Anna Mae Bullock, so impressed Turner that he recruited her as a backing singer. Renamed Tina, she soon became lead vocalist and, within a year, Turner’s wife (although he later questioned the validity of the Mexican ceremony). The Rhythm Kings morphed into The Ike & Tina Turner Revue. As simply Ike & Tina Turner, they created an explosive live act that was never adequately captured on vinyl. Their magnum opus ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ (in which Turner did not participate) failed in the States, and after 1973’s Nutbush City Limits, their star began to wane.

After many years of physical and mental abuse, Tina walked out mid-tour in 1976. Turner continued to work, but after Tina’s 1980s comeback, her autobiography cast him in the role of wife-beating villain. In 1989, he was imprisoned on drugs charges. On his release in 1993, Turner returned to touring and recording, slowly attempting to repair his tarnished reputation, and appeared on the Gorillaz album Demon Days (2005). He died in December 2007 of a cocaine overdose.

Essential Recordings

Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats: Rocket 88

with Tina Turner: The Soul Of Ike And Tina Turner

with Tina Turner: River Deep, Mountain High

with Tina Turner: Workin’ Together

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